Meet The Van

The van is a 1969 E-200 Ford Econoline. It is a 3/4 ton. Rear wheel drive. 302 V8 Engine. 3 Speed C4 Transmission. A chrome label says this is a "Supervan" and that could refer to the fiberglass bubble top conversion. (Actually, Supervan refers to the longer wheelbase. It's a base model and not a "Club Wagon".

Known History:
I came into possession on it in August 2008 as part of my "Move to Mexico" plan. I bought it in San Pedro, California (pronounced San PEE-dro). The purchase price was $1200 which was the asking price at the time but the owner had tried to sell it for months with no luck and was steadily lowering the price. He had put $3500 into a rebuilt transmission and engine and brakes about 4 years earlier but the van, with terrible city gas mileage and an exterior that begs cops to pester you, didn't attract many/any buyers. I wanted a van I could work on and live in and play guitar in while in Mexico. This van fit the bill. I remember test driving it with the owner and we were both holding our breath because he was more of a caretaker and I was auditioning for the role of new caretaker. A 40 year old van is not owned, really. He was simply protecting it until the next owner revealed himself. And that man was me. We looked at each other and nodded: the chemistry was right. The money was simply a statement of trust, but the chemistry was the most critical factor.

The Econoline Message Board is where I go for advice and to pretend I know what I'm talking about. Here's an article from popular science in 1969 reviewing my model van. Here's another forum.

The van had several hundred thousand miles on it when I bought it but I don't know how many because the odometer only goes to 99,000 miles. In 2004 it had a rebuilt engine put in for about $1500. Then a rebuilt transmission was put in 2005 or so by Aamco when the OD was reading 60,000+. The receipts and performance attest to these facts. The van is not realistic for city commuting as it gets around 9 mpg in the city. If a light changes red then I can kiss $1 goodbye. It's pathetic so I bought a moped that I carry around and ride short distances (or even long distances) That's the only way to make this work in a city.

I've done quite a bit of work that I could list here:
This coxcombing didn't last long. It grew loose.
In August 2012 I remodeled the interior so it will sleep one person comfortably instead of two people uncomfortably. But my attempts to simplify and reduce my possessions have been a failure as I keep trying to learn hobbies such as rug hooking and leather work and cox-combing the steering wheel. I replaced the exhaust gaskets, the turn signal cam, installed a wood stove for my trip to Labrador, put two lights in the interior, put a new secondary band in the transmission, a new tranny modulator, new filter, new oil, starter solenoid/relay.
Punch Pin Embroidery isn't only for roses and birds. I put this together.

The van really suits me and I've come to believe the unchanging (governed by mechanical laws) universe that it inhabits is how I want the rest of the world to be. Technically, I could keep this van running for another 40 years. I could actually rebuild the engine forever. There is nothing about this van that can't be fixed so the only question is desire and money. It's not a question of if I love the van because it's a machine and I'm trying to merely understand it on its own terms. This is completely possible with a bit of investigation and skinned knuckles. It's no big deal learning everything about a single vehicle because it's always going to be the same. I'd like to take the transmission apart and to rebuild the differential. Why not? They are the only mysteries left. I imagine passing this vehicle down to someone not for the transportation it will provide but as an example of how a landscape can be studied and understood and mastered and respected. The maintenance of the van has taught me lessons about the physical universe. It doesn't help me relate to humans any better but the A=A world is stark and harsh. From bearing failures and brakes locking up, there is a reason and a cause for everything and I am a freak for causal investigation.

Some interesting details to be translated from the vehicle ID plate:

This was originally what is called a "Display Van". E262. That probably means the windows were only on one side.
302 2v carb v8 engine.
It's Factory Blue interior...non acrylic paint.
The passenger seats were probably the bench seats that have been long removed and replaced by a variety of beds and cargo boxes. But originally the passenger  bench was "fixed" which probably means it couldn't be adjusted up or down. It was bolted down and the back was not adjustable. Although if this was a camper conversion then it had different benches put in later. The two front seats are so called "Captain's Chairs" because they swing in a circle. Real fancy! Neither have arm rests and they both need new upholstery.
It originally had Y exhaust pipes going to one muffler. I had money so I replaced the whole thing with two stainless steel mufflers and all brand new pipe with the tail pipes before the wheels, because that added character. I literally worked side by side with a one-eyed Mexican when I did that work and the welding was butchered and it wasn't properly braced so that's what I get for paying with a case of beer.
The van's name is El Conquistador because I couldn't think of anything more grandiose.

The transmission is a cruise-o-matic* 3 speed automatic. It's a C4 transmission but, like the engine, I have no way of knowing if it's the original one. *(I thought a Cruise-o-Matic was the 1969 name for a C4 but have been told it actually refers to a cast iron FMX transmission that is totally different.) So, maybe the ID tag means the van once had a cruise-o-matic FMX tranny that is long gone and now it has a C4. This might be what is known as a Ford-O-Matic. I rebuilt the transmission on April 1-5 2013 because of shifting problems (delays, slipping, grinding). I reused the bushings and thrust washers but replaced everything else including the rev-high brake drum which was scored from when the friction material on the band wore off in 2011 in Labrador. Rebuilding the tranny is not as hard as it seems since only the clutch pads, seals and rings and o-rings can be replaced. The hard parts and gears are either good or bad. These were good except for that one hi-rev drum. I put in Auto Zone Dex/Merc ATF on the advice of the mechanic. I'd used only Type F until then but so far it runs and shifts good. Dex/Merc can't be mixed with Type F but this was a full flush so I was starting over. Fixing the automatic transmission was the last frontier in mechanics for me. I've replaced engines, clutches, brakes, gears, radiators, starters alternators, solenoids, headlights, wiring..etc. But never the transmission. Now I've done that and if you have the facilities to take the tranny out like a lift and a tranny jack then a clean bench is all you need. ATSG makes a good manual. If you ask me nice I'll email you my pdf for the C5 as it's close to what a C4 is. Buy the master rebuild kit, selective thrust washer kit, selective snap ring kit and that should be all you need. It took me 30-40 hours but it's done and I trust my work. It's a $1400 job at a shop but the van really isn't worth spending $1400 on it. Parts cost about $150. If you're lucky like me you can find a garage with a broken down 1976 Jawa moped from Czechoslovakia to fix in exchange for using their lift.
Had seats engine cover and dashboard renewed in Guatemala in April 2015
The axle code is confusing. 17 is not a number that is in the code chart.
The number is supposed to indicate both the rear and front axles. But #17 only fits if it is talking about #1 for the rear axle, a 3.0 ratio 3300lb....and #7 for the front 3.0 ratio 3050lb axle. That would make sense but it should read 0107.
speaking of weight limit, the van has a 5400 lb limit.
It's a 3/4 ton with a 123.5'' wheelbase, which is about 10'. It's about 14 feet long total.
I did romanticize Thoreau's simple lifestyle, a woodstove, fishing, but when I put all the pieces together in my mobile log cabin, it turned out to be very satisfying.
One would need a bigger stove and far more insulation for this lifestyle to be anything but difficult in the dead of New England winter. One can survive, but it's no picnic.

The only other piece of info I can glean from the tag is that this particular van was completed in the last build month for 1969 Econoline vans. It was built in August of 1969 and was #58,104 of the F subset of Econolines built at the Lorain plant in Ohio. It doesn't mean that it's #58,104 because there were about 400,000 similar vans built in 1968 and 1969 and they were all sold as 1969 vans. A United Auto Worker's strike in 1967 caused delays in the release of vehicles in 1968 so the 1969 vans were also delayed. After August of 1969 the next build would be sold as 1970 vans with whatever changes were made for that year. There was a District Special Order that was placed at the "Body Company" and I suspect that was the conversion top additions that made this a camper van.

You might ask where the bathroom is. Maybe it had a bathroom back in 1970, but today, lacking a nearby Walmart, I shit in a newspaper page and throw it in the trash. Sorry if that grosses you out but millions of dogs do the same thing every day.

It's my van and right now I can't drive anything without thinking how much better my van is.

Here's a link to the transmission manual

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Man in the Van by Oggy Bleacher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.